James Haltigan.

The Irish in the American revolution, and their early influence in the colonies online

. (page 8 of 67)
Online LibraryJames HaltiganThe Irish in the American revolution, and their early influence in the colonies → online text (page 8 of 67)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

assumed all the expenses of the publication, and his pious rever-
ence for his ancestor deserves a suitable recognition from every
one, now or hereafter, who may become interested in the subject."

Apart from the labor of love of the devoted McLaughlin it
will be seen from the above that the life of Matthew Lyon would
never have been published and his memory would have remained
at best a by-word in history, but for the generosity, patriotism, and
filial love of a member of his own family in the fourth generation.

This is an illustration, in the worthy person of Colonel
Machen (who, we are sorry to relate, has since followed
McLaughlin to the grave), of the real man, the true American,
and the genuine Irishman, faithful alike to home, country and
race — the best product of our civilization. We need not despair
of America when we have citizens like Colonel Machen, who, we
firmly believe, are in the vast majority in this country, and who
will yet assert their true Americanism. The vanities of the newly
rich and shoddy may for a time run riot on the surface, but there
is a deep stream beneath, and in the end, when all is said and done,
the true principles of the fathers will arise and abide with us for
all time.

Matthew Lyon, an Irishman, was one of the real fathers of
this Republic, and helped to plant, not only in Connecticut and
Vermont, where he first settled, but throughout the whole nation
the undying principles of liberty on which the institutions of this
country are founded.

He was born in the County of Wicklow, in 1750, and lived
there and in the city of Dublin until his fifteenth year. His father
was one of the victims of English rule in Ireland, having been put
to death upon the gallows for endeavoring to assert the rights of
his people. But the gallows failed in its work. Though it crushed
the life of the elder Lyon, his spirit lived in his son, and still lives
in his sons' sons, as exemplified in the person of Colonel Machen.

Owing to the loss of his father Matthew Lyon was taken
from school in his thirteenth year and placed in a printing office
in Dublin. Here he remained two years, learning the printer's
art, when he made up his mind to come to the new world.

It has been widely stated that he came here as a Redemp-
tioner, but such is not the case. He agreed with the captain of a
ship to work his passage as a cabin boy, but the captain proved
recreant to his agreement and sold him as a Redemptioner on
his arrival in New York, even closing down on the only sovereign


which Lyon had and which he had given him for safekeeping.
As the infamous law which allowed this traffic in white slavery
until the victim reached his majority was all on the captain's
side, young Lyon had to submit, and he was sold to Jabez Bacon,
one of the richest merchants in America, for seventy pounds
sterling. As Lyon was big and manly looking for his age the
captain passed him off for eighteen years, though he was only
fifteen, so he had only three years to remain in servitude.

Lyon landed in New York in 1765, and as he passed through
the city on his way to his future home in Woodbury, Conn., the
cheers of the Sons of Liberty fell upon his ears, as they were
already assembling against the Stamp Act, which had just then
been enacted by the British Government,

Lyon's life reads like a romance. It is filled with exciting
scenes, dire persecutions, and crowning triumphs. He was sold
once more by Jabez Bacon for tv/o stag oxen, but by his industry
and ability he achieved his freedom before his term of servitude
expired. In his twenty-first year he was married to Miss Hos-
ford, of Litchfield, Conn., a niece of Ethan Allen, and thus became
a member of one of the most prominent and patriotic families
in the East. He lived in Connecticut for ten years, and then set
out for Vermont, and was one of the first settlers in that section.
There he published newspapers, established mills and factories,
and was the first man to make paper from wood. He lost his
first wife soon after his arrival in Vermont, and was married, for
the second time, to Beulah, the third daughter of Thomas Chit-
tenden, the first Governor of the State. In this marriage, in ad-
dition to securing a cultivated and devoted wife, he was again
fortunate in allying himself to a family noted for its worth and
prominence. He became a member of the Council of State, of
which his father-in-law Vv^as the President.

As a member of this Council Matthew Lyon is thus pictured
by the Hon. D. P. Thompson in an address delivered fn 1850
before the Vermont Historical Society :

"Next to them was seen the short, burly form of the un-
compromising Matthew Lyon, the Irish refugee, who was willing
to be sold, as he was, to pay his passage, for a pair of two-year-
old bulls, by which he was wont to swear on all extra occasions
—thus sold for the sake of getting out of the King-tainted at-
mosphere of the old world, into one where his broad chest could
expand freely, raid his bold, free spirit soar untrammcled by the
clogs of legitimacy. In his eagle eye, and every lineament of
his clear, ardent, and fearless countenance, might be read the
promise of what he was to become— the stern Democrat and
unflinching champion of the whole right and the largest liberty."


After the formation of this Council the outlook for the
patriot cause in Vermont was most gloomy. The country was
being outraged by the British soldiers and their Indian allies,
there were no native troops to oppose them, and no money to
raise therg or pay their expenses — and worse than all, many
prominent men were turning traitors to the patriot cause, even
a member of the Council itself — a wretch named Spencer —
having gone over to the enemy.

At a meeting of the Council held to devise ways and means
to meet these emergencies, at which the defection of the traitor
Spencer was reported, Thomas Chittenden, the President, thus
spoke :

" 'Tis all well. Instead of being disheartened by the conduct
of the traitor Spencer, who has, perhaps providentially, left us
before we had settled on any plan of operations which he could
report to the enemy, let us show him and the world that the rest
of us can be men! I have ten head of cattle which, by way of
example, I will give for the emergency. But am I more patriotic
than the rest of you here, and hundreds of others in the settle-
ment ? My wife has a valuable gold necklace ; hint to her to-day
that it is needed, and my word for it, to-morrow will find it in
the treasury of freedom. But is my wife more spirited than
yours or others? Gentlemen, I await your proposition."

These words, uttered by a brave and determined patriot, yet
a modest and unassuming man, set the Council on fire and there-
after action was the word and the raising of one company was

"And I," said the mild Nathan Qark, "believing we may
venture to go a little higher, propose to raise two companies of
sixty each."

"No, no," cried several voices, "one company — means can
be found for no more."

"Yes, yes, the larger number — I go for two companies,"
cried others. "And I go for neither," said Ira Allen, brother of
Ethan, the youngest member of the Council, dashing down his
pen upon the table. "I have heard all the propositions — see the
difficulties of all, and yet I see a way by which we can do some-
thing more worthy of the Green ^Mountain Boys, and that, too,
without infringing on the constitution or distressing the people.
I therefore move that this Council resolve to raise a whole regi-
ment of men and take such prompt measures that within one
week every glen in our mountains shall resound with the din of
military preparations."

This proposition was received with the greatest doubt, and


the words "chimerical," "impossible," were heard on all sides
of the Council Chamber, when Clark arose and said :

"As the hour of adjournment has arrived, I move that our
young colleague, who seems so confident in the matter of means,
be a committee of one to devise those ways and means and that
he make a report thereof by sunrise to-morrow morning."

"I second that motion," cried Lyon, in his usual full deter-
mined tone and Irish accent. "I go for Mr. Allen's proposition
entirely, means or no means. But the means must and shall be
found. We will put the brave gentleman's brains under the
screw to-night," he added jocosely, "and if he appears empty
handed in the m.orning, he ought to be expelled from the Coun-
cil. Aye, and I'll move it, too."

"I accept the terms," said Allen. "Give me a room by my-
self, pen, ink, paper, and candles, and I will abide the conditions."

At sunrise the next morning the Council were in their seats
to receive the promised report. Allen, v/ith his papers in his
hand, came in and calmly proceeded to unfold his plan, which
was nothing more or less than the bold and undreamed of step
of seizing, confiscating, and on the shortest legal notice, selling
at the post the estate of every Tory in Vermont for the public
service !

For many minutes after the details of this startling plan
were disclosed not a sound was heard in the hushed assembly.
At length low murmurs of disapproval were hcird on all sides
of the chamber, when the prompt and fearless Matthew I,yon,
whose peculiar traits of intellect had made him the first to meet
and master the proposition, and whose resolution to support it
was only strengthened by the rising opposition, now sprang to
his feet, and bringing his broad palms together with a loud slap,
exultingly exclaimed :

"The child is born, Mr. President. My head has been in a
continual fog ever since we met, till the present moment. But
now, thank God, I can see at a glance how all we want can be
readily, aye, and righteously, accomplished! I can already see
a regiment of our brave mountaineers in arms before me as the
certain fruits of this bold, bright thought of our young friend

"Unprecedented step, is it? It may be so with us timid Re-
publicans ; but it is so with our enemies, who are this moment
threatening to crush us because we object to receive their law
and precedent. How, in heaven's name, were they to obtain the
lands of half of Vermont, which they offered the lion-hearted
Ethan Allen if he would join them, but by confiscating our es-
tates ? What became of the estates of those in their country who,


like ourselves, rebelled against their government? Why, sir, they
were confiscated ! Can they complain, then, if we adopt a meas-
ure, which, in case we are vanquished, they will visit upon our
estates, to say nothing of our necks? And can these recreant
rascals themselves, who have left their property among us, and
gone off to help fasten the very law and precedent on us, com-
plain of our doing what they will be the first to recommend to
be done to us, if their side prevails ? Where, then, is the doubt-
ful policy of our anticipating them in the measure, any more than
seizing one of their loaded guns in battle and turning it against

"Injury to the cause, will it be? Will it injure our cause
here, where men are daily deserting to the British in the belief
that we shall not dare touch their property, to strike a blow that
will deter all the wavering, and most others of any property,
from leaving us hereafter? Will it injure our cause here, to have
a regiment of regular troops who will draw into the field four
times their number of volunteers? If that be an injury, Mr. Pres-
ident, I only wish we had more of them! With a half dozen
such injuries we would rout Burgoyne's whole army in a fort-
night. I go, then, for the proposition to the death, Mr. Presi-

Thus all doubt and timidity were brushed aside by Matthew
Lyon, an Irishman. His bold dash of manly eloquence awoke
responsive chords in the hearts of his hearers and turned the
destinies of Vermont in the right direction. We are sorry we
cannot follow all the exciting scenes in Lyon's life. In his case
truth is stranger than fiction and his life-story is a romance in
itself. He was engaged with Ethan Allen in the capture of Ti-
conderoga, became adjutant of Colonel Warner's Vermont Reg-
iment, and fought at Bennington and throughout the campaign
against Burgoyne, and had the pleasure of being present when
that gentleman laid down his arms in utter defeat at Saratoga.
"Besides attending to the duties of my station," he writes, "I,
with my gun and bayonet, was in many battles and assisted at
the taking of Burgoyne."

When General St. Clair and his army were retreating from
Ticonderoga, with the enemy closely pressing in their rear, they
found themselves struggling on through the Vermont wilder-
ness, in mud and rain, uncertain of their route and liable to march
into the lines of the enemy. It was at this perilous juncture,
writes McLaughlin, "that Matthew Lyon rendered the most im-
portant military service of his life and enrolled his name among
the heroes of the Revolution."

In the dead of night Lyon appeared at the outposts of the


army, declaring himself a woodman and thoroughly acquainted
with the only road which the army could safely take to the Hud-
son. He was arrested and taken to headquarters, where General
St. Clair immediately recognized him, accepted his services, and
ordered the head of his army to follow his lead wherever he
directed. Lyon promptly ordered a detour through the woods
and thus saved the army from impending capture.

In 1778 Lyon's regiment, having lost two-thirds of its num-
ber in its many battles of the previous year, was ordered to the
South. At the request of his friends Lyon resigned his station
and was immediately appointed Paymaster-General of the troops
of Vermont, Secretary to the Governor and Council, and assist-
ant to the Treasurer.

After peace was proclaimed Lyon served two terms in Con-
gress from Vermont. During his first term he was so outspoken
against the monarchical tendencies of the Federalists that he was
arrested on the order of President Adams under the Sedition
Law, which was proclaimed tyrannical and unconstitutional by
many of the States and which was wiped off the statute books
after Thomas Jefferson became President. Lyon was sentenced
to four months in jail, but his treatment was so harsh and so
much at variance with the customs of the new Republic that it
resulted in his overwhelming re-election to Congress and the de-
feat of John Adams and his party.

Lyon became the hero of the hour. When he was liberated
from prison a procession twelve miles long accompanied him to
the State line on his way to Congress, and his entire route to
Philadelphia, where the National Legislature was then in session,
was a triumphal march.

Just before the close of his last term as a Vermont Con-
gressman, on February 17, 1801, on the thirty-sixth ballot Mat-
thew Lyon decided the painful and protracted seven days' voting
for President by casting his vote and that of Vermont for
Thomas Jefferson, making him President in preference to Aaron

In the preceding thirty-five ballots the voting was a tie. The
one vote of Vermont was divided between its two Congressmen,
Lyon casting his half for Jefferson, of whose principles he was
an ardent admirer, and his colleague, Morris, giving the other
half to Aaron Burr.

During the bitter contest Lyon was approached in a thou-
sand ways with offers of bribery. Thomas Jefferson himself
states that Colonel John Brown, of Rhode Island, in urging Lyon
to votR for Burr, used these words : "What is it you want, Col-


onel Lyon? Is it office — is it money? Only say what you want
and you shall have it."

But Lyon stood as firm as a rock, until at length his col-
league, Representative Alorris, withdrew from the House, and
Lyon cast the w^hole vote of Vermont for JcfTerson, giving him
the ninth State, a majority, and electing him.

Well might McLaughlin write : "'All honor to Matthew
Lyon at this great crisis of American History. The Federalists,
under the arrogant orders of John Adams, had thrown him into
a dungeon to get him out of the way, but they could not keep
him there, and were now confronted with a Democratic State in
the hitherto solid phalanx of New England Federalism, the vote
of which State was at last in the keeping and custody of this fear-
less Democrat, who, by the retirement of Morris, placed Vermont
with Virginia on the side of the man who was the people's choice
for President."

Soon after the election of Jefferson, Matthew Lyon, with his
family, and many friends and their families, emigrated to Ken-
tucky, where, with all his old vigor and ability, he founded the
town of Eddyville, on the Cumberland River, and was soon sur-
rounded by a most prosperous community. In 1802 he was
elected to the Legislature of Kentucky, and in the following year
he was sent to Congress, where he represented the people of his
State for four successive terms.

Owing to business upheavals during the war of 1812 Mat-
thew Lyon failed in business, but his son Chittenden assumed
his liabilities to the amount of $28,000, and, with his other
brothers, who were all prosperous, came to a beloved father's

But his proud old Irish spirit did not take kindly to depend-
ence even on his own sons, who were only too happy to repay
him for the fatherly help and affection he had lavished upon
them, so for the first time in his life, in his sixty-ninth year, he
applied for office by appointment.

In making application for this appointment Lyon wrote a
short sketch of his life for the information of Senator A. C.
Mason, son of his old friend, Stevens T. Mason, from which we
feel called upon to extract the following paragraphs :

"In 1774, when British encroachments on our rights was
raising the spirit of resistance, I laid before the youngerly men
in my neighborhood, in the country now called Vermont, a plan
for an armed association, which was adopted. We armed and
clothed ourselves uniformly. We hired an old veteran to teach
us discipline, and we each of us took the command in turn, so
that every one should know the duty of every station. With a


part of this company of Minute Men, immediately after the Lex-
ington battle, I joined Ethan Allen. Eighty-five of us took from
one hundred and forty British veterans the Fort Ticonderoga,
and captured the artillery and warlike stores, v^hich drove the
British from Boston, and aided in taking Burgoyne and Com-
wallis. That fort contained more cannon, mortar pieces, and
other military stores than could be found in all the revolted
colonies. At the rate captors have been paid in the late war
(1812), our capture, which we gave to the nation without even
pay for our time, was worth more than a million of dollars. I

persuaded many of the Royal Irish Company taken there

to join us, who afterward distinguished themselves in our cause.
In the same month, April, 1775, for the purpose of taking an
armed sloop in the Lake, it was necessary to mount two heavy
pieces of ordnance at Crown Point. Our European artillerists
said it could not be effected without a ruinous delay. With the
assistance of a few backwoodsmen, and some timber readily pro-
cured, I mounted them and put the match to the first cannon
ever fired under the auspices of the American Eagle, whose re-
nown has spread far and wide.

"You can but recollect our victory over Federalism by Mr,
Jefferson's election, and the part I bore in that memorable trans-
action. Had I- left the House, my colleague would have given
the vote of Vermont. Dent would have left the House also,
and Maryland's vote would have been for Burr, and Linn would
have changed his vote; he had repeatedly signified to me that
he would; in that case Burr would have been elected. Brown,
of Rhode Island, was placed by my side for the purpose of cor-
rupting me — he did his best. It was believed by your father and
many others that I might have received $30,000 merely to absent
myself. I have no claim on this score, except the claim I have
to having it remembered I did my duty under circumstances
which might have been considered by some as temptations. I
could not be tempted by all the wealth of the aristocracy to fail
in the duty I owed the nation at that time."

Mark how the old patriot refers to the conversion of Irish
soldiers in the British army to the cause of American independ-
ence. The arrival of Irish soldiers was hailed with delight by
the Americans during the Revolution, because more than half of
them discarded their British allegiance and fought on the side
of liberty instead of against it. His words, too, on the efforts
made to corrupt him in the election of Jefferson are enough to
enshrine his memory in the hearts of all honest men.

President Monroe expressed much sympathy for Lyon in
his reverses and appointed him as Factor to the Cherokee In-


dians in the New Territory of Arkansas in 1820. ''The old
statesman," writes McLaughHn, "set out for the frontier regions
of the Union west of the Mississippi. The eame indomitable
spirit which blazed a path through the primeval forests of Ver-
mont and Kentucky was not yet quenched, and soon Spadra
Bluff, his new home on the Arkansas River, about one hundred
and forty miles above Arkansas City, felt the impulse of that
energy and enterprise which the founder of the towns of Fair
Haven and Eddyville had displayed everywhere during his long
and eventful life. The people of Arkansas elected him as their
representative in Congress, a further proof of his magnetic char-
acter in every situation of life, but he did not live to take his seat,"

Immediately before his death Colonel Lyon performed a
journey which was talked of far and wide as a most wonderful
achievement. He sailed one of his loaded boats from Spadra
Bluff to Xcvv Orleans, disposed of his cargo, replaced it with a
new one, and sailed back again up the Mississippi as far as White
River, where he stored his goods and paid a visit to his old home
at Eddyville. Within three months he returned, with his cargo,
to Spadra Bluff, having, in his seventy-third year, accomplished
a journey of over three thousand miles.

"This," writes the historian W'harton, "was the last time he
was to drop down the current of the Mississippi, or visit, by way
of an interlude, his second home in Kentucky, for. robust as he
was, the chill of old age was at hand, and, like the night of north-
ern climates, was destined to drop upon him without the notice
of an intermediate twilight."

Matthew Lyon died on August i, 1822, leaving behind him
sons and daughters who distinguished themselves in their vari-
ous walks of life, whose children's children are even to-day in
the forefront of honorable society. In addition to Colonel
Machcn, of No. 227 Broadway, N. Y., who paid all the expenses
of McLaughlin's brilliant book, who, as we have said, but re-
cently died, there arc two other great-grandsons of Matthew
Lyon now prominent in American public life, namely, Frank
Lyon, of the Navy, who as a lieutenant of the Oregon took part
in the great sea fight off Santiago, and the Hon. Wm. P. Hep-
burn, of Iowa, one of the most prominent leaders in the Fifty-
eighth Congress of the United States.

Matthew Lyon, the poor Irish emigrant boy, left an im-
pression on this nation that will last as long as the Stars and
Stripes. And we propose to show that there were thousands of
other Irishmen equally as true to its best interests, whose foot-
steps left as deep a mark on its history and institutions.

Matthew Lyon retained his faculties almost to the end, die-


tating- even the farewell messages to the loved ones in the dis-
tant home in Kentucky, but in his last moments his mind did
not dwell on his life in the new world, or on the many exciting
scenes through which he had passed.

It wandered across the broad ocean and roamed once more
through the beautiful hills and valleys of his beloved Wicklow,
flitting again through the beautiful scenes of his boyhood home.
"His soul passed through Ireland on its way to its God."

Ethan Allen, to whose niece Matthew Lyon was married,
had an exalted idea of Irishmen long before the Revolutionary
War, and his subsequent experience more than confirmed that

Online LibraryJames HaltiganThe Irish in the American revolution, and their early influence in the colonies → online text (page 8 of 67)